The interview with Mike Pyle is Part 2 of the team feature on Xtreme Couture.
In ever-changing world of mixed martial arts few fighters are as comfortable in the chaos as Mike Pyle. The Tennessee native has spent his entire career gravitating towards the action and his "anytime, anywhere" mentality has placed Pyle across from some of the world's best fighters. From facing Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and a 30 lbs. difference in his professional debut to being the only man to ever tap Jon Fitch, "Quicksand" has proven to be versatile and dangerous. The former WEC champion is also the in-house jiu-jitsu practitioner at Xtreme Couture, where he can be found hemming up some of MMA's best on a daily basis.
In his most recent outing at UFC 120, Pyle faced rising British star John Hathaway. The young Brit had just demolished Diego Sanchez going into the matchup and defeating Pyle was supposed to further bolster his resume. Pyle had other plans and for the entire three rounds, "Quicksand" worked over the welterweight prospect in route to a lopsided decision victory. The UFC wasted no time issuing his next challenge in the form of Renzo Gracie protégé Ricardo Almeida and the two are set to collide at UFC 128 in Almeida's backyard of Newark, New Jersey. I caught up with Mike Pyle as he prepares to mix it up with Almeida and in his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview he talked about coming into his own in the UFC and playing the role of spoiler in at UFC 120.
"I knew what they were doing," Pyle began. "I've been in this business a long time. I know exactly what their thoughts were and hopefully they thought I had a chance to win the fight. I knew they wanted to push and build this cat from England...so be it and that's what it's all about but I spoiled it for them I'm sure. I wasn't going to be a stepping stone for anybody and I never will be for that matter. I just look forward to moving ahead with the UFC and keep kicking ass."
One of the most memorable moments in the bout came in the second round when Pyle wrapped Hathaway into a modified crucifix position. With his opponent trapped and helpless, Pyle peppered Hathaway with shots and, with nowhere to go, all Hathaway could do was hang on. After a coming up short in the first and being dominated in the second there were few options available for Hathaway going into the final frame.
"He got caught in the quicksand," Pyle explained. "I use that move a whole lot in the gym. I use it all of the time and when I use it in a fight it's to make my opponent break or to beat the hell out of him while he is stuck right there. Could I have finished the fight from there with strikes? Probably not but it's going to frustrate your opponent and make him tired from him struggling to get out of. If you put too much effort in being frustrated and trying to get out then you get caught. That's just my style. I like to wrap them up and do my thing. With Hathaway I was actually trying to get a cut out of that position but I couldn't get to his brow the way I wanted to. I wanted to open up a good cut and work on it but things didn't work out that way but I'll take what I got."
Pyle continued, ""I never felt him break. If anything he became a bit more eager to get after me and the fact that he couldn't hit me was frustrating him. I let him try to be as aggressive as possible and made him miss on his punches. I think he maybe hit me in the face twice during the entire fifteen minutes that we fought. The plan was to not get hit, then set up and execute some nice easy takedowns. The plan worked perfectly and I have no complaints on that performance."
Aside from Pyle's signature style of grappling, he also looked crisp in the stand-up portion of the fight as well. Training at Xtreme Couture, Pyle works with boxing coach Gil Martinez and the bout at UFC 120 in London is proof that hard work is paying off.
"It's something I have really been putting a lot of focus towards and it came through in that fight," Pyle replied when asked about his striking. "I've put a lot of time and effort into really trying to focus on being dangerous standing up. I feel my opponents are going to have to worry about the jitz if they take me down and if they decide to stand they are going to have to worry about the strikes. I just want to be a complete fighter, be comfortable wherever the fight goes and be able to handle myself in every scenario."
The win over Hathaway prompted the UFC to press for a more established challenge and when Pyle received the offer to fight Ricardo Almeida, he did not hesitate to sign on the dotted line.
"It's a good challenge for me," Pyle stated. "Ricardo is tough, he's been around the block and he knows how to fight. I feel like I am going to be the superior striker in our matchup and I'm going to impose my will in that aspect of the fight."
Typically when two fighters with a similar skill set meet the action will take place outside of their comfort zone and while this is generally the case for wrestlers, Pyle wanted to make it clear he could care less where the fight happened.
"You never know," Pyle answered when asked about the stylistic matchup. "A fight is a fight and you never know what is going to happen. You could get rocked early and things change from there. You go in there thinking like a kick boxer until you get hit and then you want to wrestle. I've always been the type of fighter that goes with the flow and I'll fight whatever way I need to depending on what's happening. I'm comfortable fighting on the ground. I've trained with world class jiu-jitsu guys before so it won't be a surprise to me to feel his jitz. There are some of the best jiu-jitsu guys in the world that train here in Vegas and Almeida's jiu-jitsu doesn't worry me whatsoever."
Pyle continued, "Yes I have to be aware of it because he does have the ability to finish guys but his record doesn't have the same amount of finishes that I've accomplished. When it comes to putting together the jiu-jitsu in MMA I feel I'm better at it than he is. I've finished a lot of guys with my jitz where he's squeaked out a lot of decisions and managed a few submissions here and there. On paper my jiu-jitsu is just a little bit better."
Fighters often talk about the evolution of MMA and in recent interviews I have heard a handful of fighters talk about the ability to transition being the future of the sport. If this truly becomes the case...Mike Pyle's fight game will only become stronger.
"The reason I say that my style of grappling in MMA is a step above his is because I do a better job at making everything flow," Pyle stated. "I've always taken pride in being a methodical and technical fighter. I don't really like to stand and trade blows until somebody falls down. There is more to being a fighter than that. Being able to outsmart, outclass and outmaneuver your opponent is what it's all about and the knockouts and subs come with that. I don't try to force myself on anyone when I'm trying to finish my opponent. I let the make mistakes and try to be as slick as I can. I take great pride in being slick and making those transitions is something that I've always done."
Pyle continued, "Even back in the 90's I've felt that if you can trick your opponent into a nice takedown you don't have be that great of a wrestler...you just have to be smart. Set it up where you can get in nice and deep on a good takedown and you'll be able to takedown superior wrestlers. If you can really sell the striking to them and make them believe you're about to let it go then transition into a nice, smooth takedown it's an art. You can conserve a lot of energy that way and it's something I take pride in. I think it's really starting to show in my fights now that I'm outclassing people and as I said that's something I take a lot of pride in."
A victory over Almeida at UFC 128 would make it three in a row for the Xtreme Couture product. Pyle has not been shy about making a run at contention and if he can perform impressively on March 19th, it would be hard not to make a case for Pyle moving into bigger matchups.
"I don't quite know," Pyle answered when asked about the divisional picture. "You never know with the UFC. I thought the win over Hathaway would get me into the cage with some of the Top 10 guys who are out there, and not to say that Ricardo isn't a big name but I thought it would get me up in there with some of the higher ranked fighters. It didn't and you never know what they have planned for you or what type of matchup they are looking to put together. Honestly I have no idea what a win over Almeida would do for me. It would help with negotiation of the next contract but I'm just focused on trying to get him out of the way right now and as for what's next, I'll leave that in the UFC's hands. That's about all you can do anyways because it's up to them. Whoever they want me to fight I'll fight. I want that title and I'm going to get that title."
In the sport of MMA storylines can be pulled out of thin air but in this case, there are direct connections between the fighters and their camps. The most notable of which being Pyle's close friend and training partner Gray Maynard and his soon to be trilogy with current champion Frankie Edgar, who is a student of Almeida's jiu-jitsu. While Pyle stuck to his guns about the one on one matchup, he also threw his hat the ring about starting up a rivalry.
"As far as I'm concerned may the best man win," Pyle stated. "I don't care where you're from or who your reppin', all I care about is my team and what I'm doing. Who cares what he's doing because in my mind I'm doing it harder, better and smarter. That's why I take pride in the way I prepare for fights and the way I take that into the cage and perform. But yeah I could see that becoming an issue and I suppose I have thought about that a bit already. That's Frankie's jiu-jitsu coach and of course they are trying to rub off on each other, trading out the jitz for wrestling. The thing is Frankie's jitz won't ever be as good as Ricardo's and vice versa where Ricardo's wrestling will never reach the level that Frankie performs at. So yeah, why not...let's do an East Coast vs. West Coast battle. Let's do it."